A re­cently opened bistro in Bei­jing cel­e­brates the best of the coun­try’s fa­vorite foods, Mike Peters re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | DINING - Con­tact the writer at michaelpeters@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

The French cel­e­brated their na­tional day on the week­end, an oc­ca­sion that in­spires plenty of Cham­pagne-swill­ing and fine din­ing. But since the spirit of Bastille Day sug­gests a move­ment away from the Ver­sailles-ish life­style, it’s a good time of year to ex­plore French food that’s a lit­tle less gilded.

Which is not to say less de­li­cious. Bei­jing’s French restau­rant scene has long fa­vored the chan­de­liered style, but sev­eral ex­cel­lent bistro-type eater­ies have opened in the cap­i­tal lately. The lat­est is Bistro 108, tucked in a new din­ing street just op­po­site the US em­bassy and a stone’s throw from the French.

The joys of a re­cent visit be­gan for us in a glass: The house rose, not too dry and not too sweet, made for a smooth aper­i­tif that also paired nicely with the seafood and duck dishes that came later. It’s a mere bagatelle on the bill at 25 yuan ($3.70) a glass. The restau­rant rep­re­sents­theJ.P.Chenetwin­eryin China, giv­ing it an ex­clu­sive op­por­tu­nity to of­fer that value.

Our re­cent visit be­gan with a small plate of hot-from-theoven baguette, in­clud­ing some slices with a crispier crust. The restau­rant or­ders the bread from out­side half­baked, our server tells us, and then pops it into the oven to be fin­ished. There is, of course, real but­ter to go with it.

Our starter choice was the most pop­u­lar one, judg­ing from a quick look around the small eatery. The cast-iron skil­let of fruits de mer (of the sea) in­cluded ten­der squid, scal­lops, shrimps and some de­lec­ta­ble tiny clams, fried with white wine and whip­ping cream fla­vored with fine herbs. It’s 58 yuan and gen­er­ous enough to share if you’re also try­ing to save room for dessert.

Mains were as sen­sa­tional as lo­cal mag­a­zine re­views sug­gested they’d be.

The con­fit ca­nard (88 yuan) is a French duck leg served with fried pota­toes and a veg­etable.

The duck is French for rea­sons be­yond snob­bish au­then­tic­ity. Chi­nese ducks, ob­vi­ously of renowned qual­ity, are quite dif­fer­ent birds, a species cho­sen to pro­duce fat bod­ies and not so con­se­quen­tial limbs. The French, of course, are said to have an eye for a shapely leg, and for this tra­di­tional French clas­sic, the leg is what it’s all about. So the restau­rant sources big birds from the mother­land raised to pro­duce lean but sub­stan­tial legs. The fi­nal quick-fry gives it a de­li­ciously crunchy skin that can get a bit oily if you al­low the dish to cool, so get those WeChat shots done quickly and en­joy the hot, sa­vory good­ness.

The veg­etable on this day is a thick slice of tomato grilled with herbs, a side that is of­ten wa­tery and for­get­table. Here it’s a fla­vor bomb, re­flect­ing the care­ful sourc­ing that owner Clement Bacri and chef Nadia Meliani clearly take pride in. This tomato was a tri­umph of sum­mer ripeness, ex­plod­ing with the earthy good­ness of the coun­try­side.

We also tried the gam­bas flambes au pastis (158 yuan), a trio of king prawns flamed in a boozy sauce rich with herbs and aniseed. Beau­ti­fully pre­sented with the shell­fish sprout­ing from a mound of mashed po­tato, it’s served with a sa­vory side of sau­teed chopped toma­toes (again a star), yel­low zuc­chini and ten­der as­para­gus.

Lyons na­tive Meliani has also won lo­cal praise for her beef dishes, in­clud­ing a zesty boef Bour­guignon (88 yuan) braised in red wine with gar­lic, onions and fine herbs that sells out early. Cote de boef is an Aus­tralian prime rib of beef served with three kinds of sauces, mashed pota­toes, fries and salad. At 568 yuan per kg, it’s the big-ticket item on a menu that over­all is nicely medium-priced.

Dessert is well-worth sav­ing room for. It’s tempt­ing to de­scribe the fon­dant au cho­co­lat, or choco­late lava cake, as Bei­jing’s best, but we tend to think that about ev­ery ver­sion of this sweet we’ve ever met. Suf­fice it to say this one is pure de­light. The same can be said for the ap­ple tart, a thin-crust ap­ple pie that rip­ples across the plate to give a scoop of vanilla ice cream a warm­ing em­brace.

The restau­rant’s name is a bit of a dodge on bad luck. The ac­tual ad­dress is 104 — not a happy num­ber in Chi­nese — so the name be­came Bistro 108.

“I’ve been a food lover since I was born, and it was my dream since I was a kid to open my own place one day,” says Bacri, whose pro­fes­sional back­ground is in fash­ion and events. “I was wait­ing for the right place and the right mo­ment.”

We’d say the mo­ment has ar­rived.

a French duck leg served

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Clock­wise from top: Fish tartare with crunch veg­etable and pas­sion fruit; gam­bas flambes au pastis, a trio of king prawns flamed in a boozy sauce with herbs and aniseed; ca­nard, with fried pota­toes and a veg­etable; au cho­co­lat, or choco­late lava cake.

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